Sarah Pachter is a wife, mother of a large family, and a full-time journalist who burns pots (occasionally), juggles work and home (not always successfully), and is a warm Yiddishe mama (always). In her new book Supermom! (Who? Me?) she shares her ups and downs—the sweet moments of parenting and those racked with guilt—openly, one friend to another, in her light engaging style that every woman can relate to.
So, how does Supermom deal (or not) with her kid’s Purim costume crisis? Read below to find out…
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Purim. The happiest holiday of the year will soon be here, so why am I feeling so far away from perfect happiness?
Faced with the huge choice of costumes and the cacophony that comes with them, the question becomes moot. The children continue gaily digging through the bags of costumes that we’ve assembled—and preserved!—over the years, and I continue staring disbelievingly at the ever-growing pile of costumes awarded a no with a capital N.
They casually reject the nicest costumes, tossing aside fancy dresses, gowns, capes, and hats. I glumly acknowledge that this is not unique to my humble home, but that the same scene is taking place in Jewish homes everywhere.
When I was a child, any colorful bit of material, any mask cut out of a simple sheet of paper, fired our imagination and could qualify as a costume. We really weren’t picky.
Am I right? Or do I have a selective memory?
Maybe I did make a scene in my parents’ living room as part of the pre-Purim ritual, lambasting them with a speech about the poor choices I was being offered for my Purim costume, or about the meager offerings of junk food to be included in our Purim gift baskets.
“I don’t want to be just like everybody else!” comes Aviva’s call from among the piles of millinery. “All the girls in my class are dressing up as brides. And they’re doing it because they want attention,” my bright five-year-old tells me seriously. “I want to be something different!”
I went through a mental checklist of the costumes we had in stock. “Butterfly? Flower seller? Or maybe you’d like to dress up as a princess or a little Dutch girl? We’ve got kimonos for you to dress up as a Chinese or Japanese lady, and you can be a flower, a strawberry, queen of hearts or queen of stars. That’s quite a selection, you know!”
Nothing is quite what she’s looking for.
The children spent six straight hours talking, giving each other ideas, laughing, arguing, and sometimes almost crying in frustration.
“So what do you think, Mommy?”
“This year Purim comes out on a Friday, so that means that the festivities will be shorter than usual. Why don’t we just go with what we’ve got at home?” My tepid suggestion is received even more coolly by my children.
My mailbox sends a flashing message onto the computer screen. It’s a note from the editorial staff. I remember the piece I’ve got to send in for next week on the children of Sderot, in southern Israel near the Gaza border, and I sigh.
“Do you kids even know what real problems are? Certainly not the indecision when faced with the choice of a policeman’s costume or that of a beefeater with a beaver cap, straight out of Buckingham Palace. There are many children in the south whose minds are preoccupied not with the joy of the coming holiday, but with very real fears for their survival.”
This argument proved a winning one, and a pensive silence pervaded the room. We speak a lot about what’s happening there. Dovi asked me if he should be drawing some pictures to improve their morale, and he’s even saved some of his treats to enclose in the package.
My head was spinning, and my temples throbbed. For the past two weeks I had been working on a project I had undertaken. For a moment there, I wanted someone to hear me out, someone with whom I could share and who would understand me.
It was surreal, really, as if there was nothing in their world except the search for a costume. As the children tried on one costume after another, I felt that I was also changing masks and costumes many times during the course of the day, being especially careful not to remove that final mask that separates Mommy from Sarah. I wanted to scream aloud: “That’s it! You all have exactly one minute to decide on a costume from the stock we have at home, and not a second more. I want to arrive at Purim in sound mind!”
I was upset with myself for becoming frustrated, but, in all honesty, which mother doesn’t feel, at least at those moments when it’s like we’re being squeezed in a juicer, that we’re just women in disguise? That we’re locking away our urge to scream, to revolt?
“Mommy, what did you dress up as when you were a little girl?” asks Shira, looking for new angles in her search for an original costume.
“Uh, what did I dress up as? I dressed up as a mommy!”
“Mommy, you dressed up as a mommy?” Shira began laughing, and within moments all of the children joined her, their complaints replaced by belly-shaking laughter.
“That was one year,” my cute Dovi had to ask. “What else did you dress up as?”
“Hmmm… You know, as a little girl I always dressed up as a mommy!” There it was, out in the open, and it was true. Every year since I could remember, I had informed my mother that for Purim I would be dressing up as a mommy. Looking back, she must have been delighted that unlike her friends, she didn’t have to run from store to store looking for the right costume for me.
I was easily satisfied. I tied a kerchief over my hair, put on my mother’s jacket with a matching scarf, put on just a little rouge, a pair of heels and, of course, I carried an infant seat with a doll inside. Sometimes I managed to get hold of a kangaroo carrier and another doll would find its place inside. I was a mommy, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Wait a minute!
I know I enjoyed every minute of it, already feeling then as a little girl that motherhood was an absolute joy. Why now was I allowing myself to get into a rut, to feel down about what I once felt was a privilege?
“Ruthie, come here.” I swept up little Ruthie in my arms and carried her to her crib for her daily nap. “Gather up the costumes and bag them in the meantime, kids,” I called over my shoulder. The baby’s eyes were now half closed, and my eyes started feeling heavy, too. I sat down on a rocker in the baby’s room, and I must have dozed off for half an hour or so.
I hear a gaggle of voices—or by now do I just imagine all of those voices in my head?
No, they were all standing at the door to the baby’s room. Aviva had dressed up as a mommy, and Shira and Yael were wearing the uniforms of doctor and nurse.
“We’ve come to take care of you!” they exclaimed, holding out a plate containing a sandwich of the kind that only loving children can prepare, cheese dripping out from between the two slices of bread, an unpeeled cucumber on the side. Yael extended a cup of fruit juice toward me.
I’ll stop describing the evening here, because words can’t adequately describe these beautiful moments, the ones that provide you with fuel for a long time to come. The moments that remind you why you always dressed up as a mommy.
My girls, at least, have decided on their costumes for this Purim.